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Religious and Personal Conviction Does Not Justify Harassment

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In August 2015, Judge Weinstein of the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York, supported a ruling against UPS which was based on claims of harassment and discrimination of a lesbian employee by a manager.

The judge’s ruling include the statement: “[As] the nation’s understanding and acceptance of sexual orientation evolve, so does the law’s definition of appropriate behavior in the workplace…the jury found improper under the law repeated ‘advice’ from plaintiff’s supervisor that her sexual orientation as a lesbian was evil and need to be changed in accordance with religious dictates. Appeals to the bible, or theology generally, cannot justify management’s condoning the harassing of a lesbian in the workplace. Defendant’s central administration failed to protect plaintiff from such abuse.”

According to the recent court decision, the plaintiff, a woman named Tameeka Roberts, was commissioned to work under “Bob W”, her manager. Over the next few years, Bob admonished Ms. Roberts that the Bible prohibited her type of lifestyle and repeatedly told her she was evil. He also reportedly told her that she was “going to hell” and that her behavior was unnatural. After Ms. Roberts had made many complaints to her union, HR and other UPS managers, she was finally informed that Bob’s behavior was not considered a violation of UPS harassment code. This decision was confirmed in court by several UPS executives. Eventually, Ms. Roberts claimed that Bob became angry with her for seeking help and retaliated by changing her time card and occasionally hitting her with packages. Tameeka Roberts eventually quit her job and claimed constructive damage.

The District Court, during its affirmation of the jury’s verdict, explained in great detail, the history of LGBT legal rights and protections and explored the debate in the law concerning whether Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Judge Weinstein noted that Ms. Robert’s allegations of “discriminatory comments about plaintiff’s sexual orientation made over a number of years, show adverse differential treatment. So too do the significant failures of supervisors to protect plaintiff against discrimination.”

There are several lessons employers can glean from this case. You cannot ignore claims presented to you about supervisors making negative or offensive comments to lesbian, gay or transgender employees. Additionally, you should ensure that every member on the Human Resource staff understands that importance of your discrimination and harassment policies. Remember, as society changes, the workplace must change as well. Don’t let your workplace fall behind the times. Taking the time to ensure that LGBT harassment doesn’t occur will pay itself off in the long run.

If you have questions about discriminatory practices in your workplace, Goldman & Ehrlich has answers for both workers and employers. Contact us online or call us at (312)332-6733.